By on September 26, 2009

Math. (courtesy 2.bp.blogspot.com)

It’s not that people are unpredictable. They are predictable. But they frequently behave counterintuitively, a phenomenon that has given rise to the field of behavioral economics. Like economists, engineers have traditionally ignored psychology. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), is a 300-odd page romp into what scientists are learning about how traffic really works now that they are accounting for the human element. Take “passive safety.” It’s long been the philosophy behind efforts to make driving safer. Reduce driver demands by simplifying the driving environment, and protect people from getting hurt in crashes—rather than teaching skillful driving. After all, it’s easier to engineer safety than change behavior. But too much safety lulls the driver into complacency.


Driving down Orlando’s US Highway 50 with author Tom Vanderbilt, Dan Burden, a traffic eminence, notes that trees have been eliminated, and the sidewalk pushed so far back from the street as to be in “another world,” all to relieve drivers of hazards and distractions. Nonetheless, this stretch is the 12th deadliest road in America.

Yet, nearby on 50, where lanes and clear zones are narrower, and dangerous “fixed objects”–poles and trees–remain, but where traffic is otherwise completely comparable, a fatality hasn’t occurred in five years. “The hazards [are] the safety device,” Vanderbilt writes. “Drivers left with little room for error seemed quite capable of not making errors.”

That concept extends to rotaries, which not only move traffic considerably more quickly than standard stoplight intersections, but are safer, even though–or rather because–drivers have to compensate for uncertainty by driving more carefully. This is the rationale behind the famous Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman’s counterintuitively safe blending of the worlds of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists on narrow streets.

Oddly, Vanderbilt ignores this logic for highway speeds, an issue that has arisen as politicians use safety as an additional excuse to promote a new double nickel to address skyrocketing oil prices and climate change. Vanderbilt marshals considerable evidence to argue that slower is always safer, but he doesn’t dig into special cases.

Boosting the speed limit on Indiana interstates from 65-70 mph, which raised average speeds by more than 3 mph, did not lead to more injuries or deaths, according to a recent study. Investigator Fred Mannering of Purdue University largely credits reduced speed variance, and adds that greater alertness may also have played a role.

The take-the-human-out-of-the-equation approach combined with labor saving devices–slushboxes, radar cruise control, etc–leads yuppies to think they can multitask safely behind the wheel. Vanderbilt cites various studies to explain why they won’t get away with it. Attention capacity is limited, and easily breached. One of several examples: “pedestrians using mobile devices walked more slowly and were less able to interact with the device, pausing occasionally to “sample the environment”,” Vanderbilt writes. And stuff happens so quickly in traffic that more than two seconds’ inattention boosts the risk of collision 19-fold.

There’s much more. Vanderbilt dissects the frustrations of getting stuck in slow traffic. Anxiety, uncertainty, and boredom all slow time, as does the sense–oft illusory–that other lanes are moving quicker. He reports that driving is safest in the least corrupt countries. And he explains why adding more highways or lanes has diminishing returns, and why traffic increases to fill new capacity, through “latent demand.”

When a strike removed 9,000 trucks from the roads near Los Angeles, within a few days the traffic was as bad as ever. (Nonetheless, more than several years after completion of the Big Dig, it still takes me only 25-30 minutes–reliably–to drive to Boston’s Logan Airport, as compared to 45 minutes to an hour in the old days.)

There is no easy way to ease traffic, short of moving to the Great Plains or the Great Basin. But understanding its flows may make it slightly less intolerable.

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93 Comments on “Review: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)...”


  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    I’ve noticed a similar phenomena in Los Angeles. A freeway will be widened by as much as 3 additional lanes in one direction, and there is never any improvement in traffic flow.

    There is however the idiot factor, which may or may not improve traffic. I would like to see a study on that.

  • avatar

    I read this book a while ago and found the argument for lower speed limits specious when compared to all the other innovative thinking displayed elsewhere in the book. There are sections of rural highway, especially out here in the west where limits could be safely raised to 90 or 100 MPH with no impact on fatality.

    Otherwise it is a very interesting read. I loved reading the data about injury and fatality throughout history. It seems that roads in the days of horses and buggies where far more dangerous places that we’d imagine them to be. It additionally uncovers data about how some vaunted “safety” regulation has had almost no measurable improvement. The one that comes to mind is the third brake light, which has reduced collisions by a mere single-digit percentage.

    –chuck

    • 0 avatar
      r_cardona68

      I do not know what the logic is to raise speed limit to 90 or 100 mph. The truth is that our vehicles are not built to withstand that kind of punishment. Our roads are not designed for those kinds of speeds. And certainly our drivers are ill trained for the speed limits now in place. I have driven several times in Europe. Primarily France. Their superhighway system works because of ultra high construction and maintenance standards along with driver certification. I was never tailgated even though I was not the speediest of drivers. In the USA tailgating happens at any speed which reflects a lot of ignorance about car safety handling at higher speeds, 70 mph plus. The economics also do not make sense since at 70 plus mph mpgs drop to single numbers making a 100 mile run at 100 mph impossible without refueling. I noticed visiting Arizona a couple of years ago that their highways have a much higher number of tire carcasses indicating more blowouts per mile than lower speed limit roads. Even at a 75 mph speed limit cops were writing lots of speeding tickets. Speed is not the solution but the problem in our roads.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    This reminds me of an economist’s (I’ve forgotten who) take on auto safety that I once read. His theory was that all the safety equipment in cars acts to reduce the price of bad or aggressive driving. His prescription was to remove all the seat belts and air bags, then mount a dagger on the steering column of every car. With a dagger pointed at each driver’s heart, the cost of bad driving becomes staggering, and better driving is sure to result.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I think John Muir in his “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive for the Compleat Idiot” said this. It’s in there anyhow…

      I agree though.

      Bring back those cars that didn’t guarantee anything and people might get alot safer. I drive a small car, ride motorcycles and drive rear-engined VWs. Yeah – I know how much danger I face and I stay alert.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    the third brake light, which has reduced collisions by a mere single-digit percentage.

    Yes. What exactly do you expect? The low-hanging fruit, the giant big improvements in traffic safety were made in the late ’60s and ’70s: Effective seatbelts, side-impact guard beams, and so forth. The next wave of substantial improvements was smaller, the wave after that smaller still, and so on. It’s asymptotic progress. It’s worked the same way for the cleanup of auto emissions: the first wave of control regulations and strategies gave huge double-digit-percentage improvements over uncontrolled cars. The next wave gave smaller improvements over the first wave, and so on with each subsequent wave. Most of the improvements remaining to be made are small relative to the early huge improvements; the 4.3% enduring crash avoidance benefit of the center brake light is actually quite substantial when considered in context.

  • avatar
    PJungnitsch

    If less safety equipment meant safer driving, then the kid on the Gixxer with a t-shirt and flip-flops would be the safest driver on the road.

  • avatar
    jmo

    and why traffic increases to fill new capacity, through “latent demand.”

    What does that mean – latent demand? To me it’s people who aren’t able to make the highest and best use of their skills.

    Example: It’s 1998 and the Big Dig is years from being finished. You live in Woburn (14 miles north of Boston) and you get a great job offer with a company in Weymouth (17 miles south of Boston). You decide that you just can’t take the job because the commute would be just too bad.

    Now, with the Big Dig finished, someone in Woburn gets a great offer in Weymouth they can take it. Although this does mean one more car is driving through the tunnel every day.

    But, that “latent demand” isn’t a bad thing, it’s a sign that people are now better able to make use of their time and skills.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Effective seatbelts, side-impact guard beams, and so forth.

    Electronic Stablity Control is expected to save as many lives and be as big a safety improvment as seat belts.

  • avatar
    grifonik

    Bumper cars for everyone! Then we could all drive mindlessly about and even give the bad drivers a playful bump when they’re messing up. Oh, and the fuel milage… awesome!

  • avatar
    davejay

    This reminds me of an economist’s (I’ve forgotten who) take on auto safety that I once read. His theory was that all the safety equipment in cars acts to reduce the price of bad or aggressive driving. His prescription was to remove all the seat belts and air bags, then mount a dagger on the steering column of every car.

    The author was David Friedman in the book Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life, and it was a thought experiment (involving a spike mounted on the windshield, inches from the driver’s head) to help laypeople understand how safety equipment makes people less safe.

    He also facetiously suggested an additional benefit, wherein if you saw someone driving around with a full-face helmet on (to protect themselves from the spike) you’d know to steer clear of that particular driver.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The author was David Friedman in the book Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life, and it was a thought experiment (involving a spike mounted on the windshield, inches from the driver’s head) to help laypeople understand how safety equipment makes people less safe.

    It sounds great, but he’s obviously wrong. The statistics prove it out; fatality rates are far lower now than they used to be, and that is due largely to passive safety equipment and improved highway design. The facts don’t support his position at all.

    A freeway will be widened by as much as 3 additional lanes in one direction, and there is never any improvement in traffic flow.

    Traffic is like a gas. It expands to fill the space (the roadway), and in time, will contract if the space is removed.

    It has happened on more than one occasion, in cases when roadways have been removed, such as during major urban planning projects. The nightmare scenarios don’t play out — the traffic just disappears.

    We should recognize that the supply for highways creates a feedback loop that stimulates demand. When the supply is removed, the resulting higher cost of driving caused by the reduction in space (inconvenience, need for alternative routes, etc.) prompts us to either find alternatives or, in many cases, just not make the drive at all. The driving wasn’t all that important in the first place, but people did it because they could do it easily. When it isn’t so easy anymore, they find other things to do.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    But too much safety lulls the driver into complacency.

    I don’t think that’s it. I think the problem is that 98% of driving is a complete bore. I can’t blame people for getting distracted – who wouldn’t seek some form of distraction?

  • avatar

    I agree with the notion that less hazards mean more complacency. It’s true on freeways and it’s true on African plains when gazelles get a little casual around Larry the lion.In both cases,there is a strong possibility of an unhappy ending.
    http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/

  • avatar
    carguy

    While some psychological considerations may help us to marginally lower our road fatalities, it is the much derided active and passive safety systems that have delivered lower and lower road fatalities per mile driven year after year. Even in total numbers, last year saw as many fatalities as in 1982 with many more cars on the road.

    I have my doubts that making the roads “challenging” would make traffic any safer. That only works for small stretches which contract with other batter less challenging roads that are easier to drive on. Once people get used to these “challenging” roads they will drive just as badly as on good ones.

    I say technology for the win – I like a spirited drive on a good road as much as the next person but if my car had the ability to safely drive itself to work while I read the paper or have a snooze then I’d be all for it.

  • avatar
    thirty-three

    There are a few stretches of road where I live where people drive prety fast – 10 to 40 km/h above the posted speed limit. They’re all fairly level, straight roads. The city has tried different approaches to reduce speeding (one in each location):

    1. Reduce the speed limit by 20 km/h.
    2. Make the lanes narrower.
    3. Put really big, reflective signs near obstacles (trees, telephone poles) so people can avoid them.
    4. Nothing.

    Item 1 didn’t help – it just means that people pulled over for speeding get a higher value ticket (average speed is the same).

    Item 3 didn’t help – the number of accidents is the same, but repairs are now more costly.

    Item 4 did nothing (as expected).

    Item 2 worked wonderfully. Fewer accidents & a lower average speed.

    Wide, straight roads encourage faster driving. Narrow roads discourage you from going faster. You can engineer roads to encourage a particular speed, but then you can’t collect many speeding tickets.

  • avatar

    I drove a lot more carefully under icy conditions when I had my old Toyota Corolla without ABS, and I drive similarly carefully–damn carefully–in my Accord without ABS than I did in the days I had my first gen Saturn WITH ABS. During the time I had the ABS, it saved my derriere twice, enabling me to steer in order to avoid hitting something after hitting the brakes on a slick, icy surface did virtually nothing towards stopping me. I was never in that situation in the eight years with the Toyota or the five winters I’ve had the Honda.

    There are a number of studies that provide strong evidence that others behave the way I do with respect to ABS.

  • avatar
    Neb

    @jmo: actually, what you said is a perfect illustration of latent demand. When the traffic was bad, you refrained from taking a job which would have caused you to commute. Thus, you had a “demand” to drive, but you are refraining from driving because the traffic is bad. When the highway was expanded, traffic got better, and you decided that the commute was fine. So you stopped abstaining and started driving. I have no idea what the traffic capacity of the big dig is, but if enough people think like you do (and why wouldn’t they, you are just being rational) it would lead to the traffic capacity being filled again, since lots of people who were putting off commuting due to bad traffic want to use that new capacity. Thus, the driver situation is set back to where it was before capacity was added.

    Latent demand is similar to the mystery of why the other lane in heavy traffic seems to move faster. Because less people are in the other lane, and fewer cars are using the same volume of space as the other lanes, it moves faster. This causes people to merge into that lane, which slows it down to the point that the volume is the same (or even heavier) then the other lane. Therefore, you are better off not trying to merge into that lane, since in the long run the lane you are moving in will move faster, and not the lane next to you that is moving faster right now.

    “Traffic” is a interesting read. If you clicked on the review link and liked what you read, the book is worth your while. Other issues Vanderbilt tackles are why traffic should be more like internet forums (really), and when construction reduces lanes on a highway, is it better to merge immediately, or drive to the end, and then merge? For the latter, apparently the driving to the end option is better; it uses the available roadway more efficiently.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    @pch101
    The author was David Friedman in the book Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life, and it was a thought experiment (involving a spike mounted on the windshield, inches from the driver’s head) to help laypeople understand how safety equipment makes people less safe.

    It sounds great, but he’s obviously wrong. The statistics prove it out; fatality rates are far lower now than they used to be, and that is due largely to passive safety equipment and improved highway design. The facts don’t support his position at all.

    The author is not “obviously wrong”. We were not talking about fatality rates. The topic is how safely or how unsafely people drive. Safety equipment (or the lack of it) certainly impacts what happens WHEN there is an accident. However, the question here is whether safety equipment affects the level of risk that a driver chooses to take, thereby making an accident either more or less likely. Show me some empirical evidence that this theory has been tested and disproved, and I will recant my position. However until that point, I am good with the economic rule that when some kind of behavior is less expensive, people (in the aggregate) will engage in more of that behavior and vise versa.

    And for the record, I would rather be in a car with passive restraints than without if for no other reason than that most other drivers have them too. If i choose to drive a 1950s car with no seat belts, I can be damned careful, but I cannot control the actions of the dude with air bags who tries to text and drink his slurpee while driving and doesn’t notice the traffic light I am going through.

  • avatar
    Hippo

    In Friedmans world there would be a lot of dead Americans. Averaged they are the most pathetic and incompetent drivers, mainly because they will give a drivers license to any retard that can fog a mirror.

    This is also why they favor PASSIVE over active safety, they couldn’t use the latter.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    We were not talking about fatality rates.

    There’s no better measure of safety than fatality rates. It’s a concrete method for determining how driving kills people.

    Safety equipment (or the lack of it) certainly impacts what happens WHEN there is an accident.

    The data also tells us that collision rates are also falling. This is readily available from NHTSA and the like. So no, you are incorrect.

    Show me some empirical evidence that this theory has been tested and disproved, and I will recant my position.

    The data is readily available, and I’ve posted on this topic ad nauseum in the past, with plenty of cites.

    For one, fatality rates have fallen by 80% in the last fifty years, even though the art of driving has not improved at all. Passive safety in the car and in roadway design explains it; we crash less and the crashes are less harmful when they do occur, because of the safety gear. The facts are hiding in plain sight for anyone who is interested.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    “passive safety.” It’s long been the philosophy behind efforts to make driving safer. Reduce driver demands by simplifying the driving environment, and protect people from getting hurt in crashes—rather than teaching skillful driving. After all, it’s easier to engineer safety than change behavior.

    This is a very good point and reinforced by Hippo above. Any idiot that can walk into a DMV can get a license to operate a 2 ton car. I’m not sure if they actually have to even show any skill on the drivers test anymore. OK, yeah, quite of few of us took drivers ed in High School taught by the football coach. That was worthless. I’ve taken professional track and driving courses as an adult. It’s expanded my skills and highlighted the overall lack thereof for the majority of drivers on the road today.

    What’s so bad about increasing the skill requirements for any potential driver hoping to get licensed?

  • avatar
    jmo

    it would lead to the traffic capacity being filled again

    Yes, but when it is, it means there are many more people working in jobs that better fit their needs. More volume means more people are able to be where they need to be to making the highest and best use of their time and skills.

  • avatar
    jmo

    I’ve taken professional track and driving courses as an adult. It’s expanded my skills and highlighted the overall lack thereof for the majority of drivers on the road today.

    But, you’re wrong.

    Pch101 has been kind enough to post ad nauseum the studies that clearly show courses like yours encourage people to drive more aggressively and as a result confer no safety benefit.

    It only stands to reason. Send a 17yo kid to Skip Barber and do you think he is going to drive more or less agressivley on the way home?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I warn all of you. This is a DIRE warning.

    Further discussion of safety will invoke the wrath of the Volvo Gods.

    Posters at Brickboard.com and men named Sven are ready to ‘decontent’ our roadways if the word safety is uttered again.

    I mean it! If you say the word ‘safety’ one more time you will be stoned to death.

  • avatar
    Fritz

    So to extend the argument… Is a person who has great auto insurance liable to be less risk adverse on the road? Good health insurance translates to less trips to the gym?

  • avatar

    All large cities all over the world seem to have big problems with traffic jams regardless of the incentives or extra taxes the governments impose. IMHO the root problem is overpopulation and a general lack of intelligence. Agent Smith in The Matrix said that people are like viruses – they conglomerate, pollute, use up natural resources, and when they destroy their area, they move to another one. That is certainly true for people living without intelligence. Look at how we designed our lives and our cities. It just doesn’t make sense. The traffic jams are just one manifestation of the madness. There must be a better way than commuting to work for who-knows-how-long, slaving away for eight hours, driving back home for one, two hours, getting home late in the evening and having just a couple of hours of free time.
    Then on a weekend creating more traffic jams going to cottages to be away from the crowded cities, just to be in cities formed by cottages; creating more car-based pollution just to be away from the pollution of the cities. More intelligence and fewer people are needed.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Wow. A post about driving and not one post about how Europeans are so much better drivers than Americans. (I’ve been to Europe and they’re not.) Kudos!

  • avatar
    jmo

    There must be a better way than commuting to work for who-knows-how-long, slaving away for eight hours, driving back home for one, two hours, getting home late in the evening and having just a couple of hours of free time.

    Um, that’s why people live in the city so they don’t have to drive everywhere.

    I think you’re referring to the suburbs.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    What’s so bad about increasing the skill requirements for any potential driver hoping to get licensed?

    What’s so bad about it is that it does little or nothing to improve safety. Crashes are not happening because people lack “professional track and driving” skills.

    Accidents happen because people drive drunk, because they don’t have enough common sense to slow down in bad weather conditions, because they are texting, because they are tailgating, and so on.

  • avatar
    George B

    Just today I was thinking how slow the 35mph speed limit felt on a wide, flat, almost empty stretch of street in Farmers Branch, TX. If I wasn’t concerned about getting a ticket, I would have driven about 50mph on that road vs. 45mph while looking out for cop shaped big American sedans. If the street had some objects to make it appear narrower and less safe without actually being less safe, I’d probably slow down. Maybe they could decorate the median with an occasional topiary crown vic.

  • avatar
    p00ch

    The average driver may not benefit much from a high-performance driving course, but he will benefit from a course that teaches car control in emergency situations, eg. skidpad. This aspect is definitely missing from North American drivers ed courses as we tend to rely solely on passive safety.

    Safety aside, improved driver education combined with (actively used) common sense can help reduce everyone’s frustration. If everyone observed proper lane discipline, there would be much less road rage, lane-to-lane weaving, etc. Using turn signals, using the “zipper” approach when merging with another lane – all these things could make driving less stressful if only they were hammered into our minds from the beginning.

  • avatar
    Gunit

    If you want to know whether safety equipment effects peoples driving, just watch someone in a pickup and someone in a Miata. I’ve never seen anyone in a Miata drive like some of the aholes I’ve seen in pickups and SUV’s (and some of those aholes are my friends and also have Miatas, so it’s not all about the type of driver the vehicle attracts, it’s just self preservation).

  • avatar
    210delray

    +1 pch101, jmo, and Dynamic88. Steven, point noted!

    David, US Route 50 goes nowhere near Florida. It crosses the country from Ocean City, MD to Sacramento, CA. It’s a great ride — I’ve been on much of it!

  • avatar
    matt

    @Chuck

    For a (fairly) mature technology, 1% can make a lot of difference, especially if so little cost is involved. I don’t think you can trivialize it just because we’re not talking about a 10-20% improvement.

  • avatar

    210delray,

    On page 205, vanderbilt refers to “US Highway 50.” My googling in light of your comment suggests he meant State Highway 50, which goes through Orlando.

    I’m sure I’ve at least crossed US 50 near O.C. and near Sac’to. Don’t know about points in between. I like that 90, which begins near my house in suburban Boston, ends at the Lake Washington Floating Bridge, which goes into Seattle, near where i lived as a small child.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    Interesting alternative review to the one by Stephan Wilkinson, posted just about a year ago here:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/book-review-traffic-why-we-drive-the-way-we-do-and-what-it-says-about-us/

  • avatar
    Hippo

    That goes to whether one perceives other drivers as friendlies to work with or foes. It has some validity because ones driving changes from place to place depending on perceptions.

    Bottom line is self preservation is a strong force.

    Best example is this. Most often I ride a motorcycle and often people turn into you. When called upon it they invariably say they didn’t see you.

    They are lying sacks of shit.

    How do I know this?

    Where I live is a open carry state.
    While carrying open, same roads, same motorcycle, same everything, they never turn into you and are extremely courteous.

    They don’t see the motorcycle (because it is of no risk to them), but they sure as hell see the weapon that is many times smaller then the motorcycle.

    LOL, yeah, lying sacks of shit.

  • avatar
    AlexD

    I noticed that when driving in residential streets a summer ago in Germany that they don’t implement stop signs. At each intersection you yield to the traffic coming from your right. I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much attention at intersections before in my life.

  • avatar

    Hippo,

    That is an extremely interesting observation.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    ” … 4.3% enduring crash avoidance benefit of the center brake light is actually quite substantial when considered in context.”

    A 4.3% crash reduction rate from something as simple and cheap as an extra brake light is a bargain. If true, that means avoiding one in twenty three accidents for very little money.

  • avatar
    DavidFriedman

    The ideas that Davejay and jpcavanaugh are describing from my Hidden Order are not mine, they are my descriptions of the work of two other economists.

    Steve Peltzman made the point that lowering the cost to the driver of being in an accident results in drivers (rationally) taking fewer precautions to avoid accidents. He supported it with a statistical analysis of the effect of the introduction of a bundle of safety requirements. His conclusion was that making cars safer had increased the accident rate by about the same proportion by which it decreased fatalities per accident, leaving the fatality rate about the same.

    The dagger in the steering column (not the windshield) is due to Gordon Tullock, making Peltzman’s point in a more dramatic form, although, unlike Peltzman, without data.

    Where DaveJay’s full face helmet idea comes from I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s not from anything I wrote.

    Pch101 overestimates how easy it is to prove things with statistics. Fatality rates may have fallen, but that’s over a period in which a lot of other things have changed; figuring out why they fell requires actually analyzing the data, not just observing it.

    For one thing, medical care has improved, which reduces fatality rates even if nothing else changes. Improvements in automobile engineering reduce accidents by making cars easier to control. As best I recall, Peltzman found a downward trend in fatalities over time, and I think accident rates as well, even with no change in automobile safety requirements.

    Peltzman’s argument doesn’t imply that making accidents less deadly won’t reduce the death rate. What it implies is that, if nothing else changes, it will increase the accident rate. Whether the increase in the accident rate is more or less than the decrease in fatalities per accident is an empirical question–it could go either way.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Peltzman’s argument doesn’t imply that making accidents less deadly won’t reduce the death rate. What it implies is that, if nothing else changes, it will increase the accident rate.

    What percentage of people who buy a car with Brake Assist technology (as an example) know their car is so equipped?

    Whether the increase in the accident rate is more or less than the decrease in fatalities per accident is an empirical question–it could go either way.

    So, you’re saying that Electronic Stability Control will reduce fatalities by 34% (in light trucks and vans) but that will result in people driving so recklessly that more people end up dying overall?

    That doesn’t make any sense at all.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    A spike on the steering wheel isn’t reasonable, but how about requiring that insurance be for liability only? The potential for a huge repair bill may encourage people to consider the true cost of unsafe driving practices.

  • avatar
    amcadoo

    Hippo

    Are you saying you sometimes ride your bike with a rifle strapped to your back?

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    jmo:
    Pch101 has been kind enough to post ad nauseum the studies that clearly show courses like yours encourage people to drive more aggressively and as a result confer no safety benefit.

    There’s a definite correlation between driver experience and accident rates (until drivers become elderly). But you (and Pch101) conclude that all driver skill training is an absolute waste.

    Is there no room for improvement for basic driver education and training? For crying out loud, current so called “Driver’s Ed” courses have degenerated into fake bloody movies and MADD propaganda. Most never teach proper merging techniques.

    It only stands to reason. Send a 17yo kid to Skip Barber and do you think he is going to drive more or less agressivley on the way home?

    It only stands to reason for some. Yes, for most 17 year old males, you are correct. Less aggressive females, who are generally better students at that age – and who aren’t out to prove anything, would benefit.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Micheal Blue>

    I think generally most people do what they think is in their OWN best interests. How are people “less intelligent” for commuting &/or creating traffic?

    If you have a better way for me to get my 35 miles (ea way) to work (commuting going towards Chicago from near the WI state border) than working a 6am to 3pm schedule, I’d love to hear it. I think a lot of people are in the same boat — constricted by OTHER desires that have more priority thank figuring out how to not create traffic. If I didn’t drive, my commute (assuming I didn’t miss a bus or train) would be a consistent 75-90 minutes each way.

    Going to work driving takes 45 min tops (leaving the house between 5 & 5:15am). Coming home takes 55-90 minutes.

    IIRC, the bus doesn’t run early enough to get me to the train to me to get to work on time. Once I’m at the train, it’s 45 minutes to get to work. Living next to the train/tracks would have me living in a pretty bad area. Driving my car to park @ the train, and then pay daily parking + train fare costs more than the gas on my bike & takes longer. I also open up my car to vandalism/theft/break-ins in that area leaving it in the same spot for 10 hours. Actually living next to work would make my monthly housing payment almost triple for 2 less bedrooms, 1 less bathroom, 1/3 the sq footage and I wouldn’t have a 2 car garage. Which married person would make that decision?

    Sorry, but I’ll continue to create “traffic” no matter if you think it is unintelligent or not.

    IMHO the people who pay outrageous fees to live in “downtown” are the foolish ones. How much is gaining that extra 1.5 hours a day (figure 15 min walk to work and back) actually costing you when you pay more for EVERYTHING?

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Is there no room for improvement for basic driver education and training?

    It depends on what type of “improvement” you want, and what you think that “improvement” will accomplish.

    If you are just saying that basic driver’s Ed leaves much to be desired when it comes to car handling- in the Bob Bondurant sense of car handling- then I think almost everyone here will agree.

    What we don’t seem to agree on is the idea that Bondurant high performance driving skills will translate into greater safety.

    Pch101 has in the past posted ample evidence that such training simply makes people overconfident, and therefore more likely to drive faster and more aggressively, and have more accidents.

    Aside from that, there is the fact that very few accidents happen because someone didn’t have skidpad training.

    If you’re going to stop at the bar and have 3 beers on the way home from work, that negates your skidpad training. If you’re going to ride my bumper at 70, you’ve negated your skidpad training, and mine. If you’re going to text while driving, your ability to control a car on loose gravel may not be relevant as you crash head first into the semi.

    In short, more demanding driver training increases the cost/time of getting a license, and does very little to improve safety.

    Most of auto safety isn’t about actively doing something, rather it’s about refraining from doing things – driving drunk, following too close, driving too fast for road conditions, and so on. If we could teach people restraint that would be of far greater value than skidpad training.

    This is difficult for piston heads to wrap their minds around, because we tend to value driving skill. Having Jack Baruth’s high speed driving skills is nice in a pinch, but having the good sense not to drive at tripple digit speeds in the first place is of far greater importance.

    I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but one more example. I cycle to and from work as often as possible. My safety as a cyclist has mostly to do with following trafic rules, being predictable, and being highly visible. My bike handling skills are all but irrelevant. There are many teenagers who can do all sorts of BMX tricks that I can’t do. There are many mountain bikers with vastly superior bike handling skills. Yet none of this really translates to safer cycling on city streets. My ability (or lack thereof) to make a jump and do a front tire landing will never translate into safer riding on the city streets. It’s not about skill, it’s about sense.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I came late to the dance. I make my living driving all around metro Boston. The Big Dig was a nightmare. And about the only improvment in the whole deal is the I 90 East extension to Logan. That is the bee’s knees. The O’Neil Tunnel heading south after 3pm is a crap shoot. If the Mass Ave on ramp is stalled, its normal condition,it will back up the whole tunnel in short order with Congress St.and A st to Old Colony ,a viable alternative. just like during the Dig. I’ve spent plenty of time stalled on the Zakim bridge to marvel at its construction.
    My old 528e has great ABS, steel beams in the doors, well engineered crumple zones. Standard 3 point belts. No air bags. I have been hooked up with fellow E28ers since 2k. All kinds of horrible accident pics involving E 28s. Very few fatals, and most of those involved ejection from not wearing a belt. The front and rear crumple zones work quite well. All I have to do is avoid geting T-Boned and I am reasonably assured of walking away. So I pay attention at intersections. I dont care if I have the light or the right of way. Its Boston, such stuff is just a suggestion. I dont go, if I cant see. That is where all the close calls come from.

  • avatar

    Robstar, I think you misunderstood my point. My point was/is that it’s the general lack of intelligence that created a setup like this – that many people have no choice but to participate in creating the traffic jams. There must be a better way of organizing our society, our living and working places, than what we have now. How do you organize NY, LA, or GTA to be better flowing, to get rid of the traffic jams and much of the air pollution? It seems that with the huge number of people that share such a relatively small area you can’t – hence the overpopulation.
    Also, some people have no choice but to drive to work, yet there are many lazy people that could easily take the train or subway…

  • avatar
    Robstar

    @Michael Blue>

    I did miss the point and I apologize.

    I lived all of my life (except for about 1 year) INSIDE Chicago, commuting, by train/bus or car.

    Going 7 miles to work by bus/train/walking combination took me the same amount of time or more than my 35-mile driving commute now.

    My best commute time going that 7 miles, in a year, trying multiple different train/bus routes was 42 minutes. 42 minutes for 7 miles!!! On a bad day (the day I tried 3 bus routes) it took me over 2 hours.

    Until much better & more (time) efficient public transportation arrives, I think people will continue to drive.

    IMHO bus & train fares right now are way under priced. They should be at LEAST doubled (esp since every senior in chicago now rides free). Give a discount to the students/disabled & double or triple fares for everyone else.

    Right now in Chicago you can go from howard to 95th street for $2.25 — on end of the city to the other. WAY too cheap.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Having been the driving instructor for two young people in the past several years I can say that without a doubt California’s driver exam is a joke.

    The over the road test doesn’t even include getting on and off a freeway!

    But, the biggest thing which would improve driver behavior would be much more agressive enforcement of traffic laws. There seem to be three major causes of wrecks: Substance abuse, driver inattention and driver aggression.

    More ticketing of violations, particularly of bad intersection behaviors, would help.

    The crackdowns on drunk driving over the past few decades have in fact reduced the rate of drunk driving related wrecks.

    It should be much harder to get a license and harder to keep one than it is today.

  • avatar

    Michael Blue: There must be a better way of organizing our society, our living and working places, than what we have now. How do you organize NY, LA, or GTA to be better flowing, to get rid of the traffic jams and much of the air pollution?

    If the population were stable, a car-based society might work pretty well, but when the population is exploding, as it has been and still is in the US (150 million during Eisenhower, 307 million now, a projected 440 million by 2050), there’s not much hope. But if you want to do your part to stabilize the population, join numbersusa.com. 82% of the growth over the next 40 years will be mass immigration according to the Pew Research Center, and it’s been about 2/3 of the growth in the last half century.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Is there no room for improvement for basic driver education and training?

    Probably not. The subject has been studied extensively for decades, and no one has yet figured out how to use driver’s ed in order to transform peoples’ personalities so that drivers, particularly young drivers, take fewer risks.

    Accidents aren’t caused by a lack of skills, but by risk taking and inattention. Risk taking is linked to intoxication and youth, and is not deterred by training. Nonchalance and apathy are personality traits not limited to driving, and driver’s ed isn’t going to fix those, either.

    Skills training doesn’t work because it does not address what causes accidents. Meanwhile, performance and skidpad training produce overconfidence, which produces risk tasking, which results in more accidents. So not only does the training not help, but it actually can make things worse.

    I realize that people desperately want to believe that education can fix everything. But it can’t. We need to be pragmatic and results oriented, and not turn to learning as a quick fix for all of our ills. We end up squandering resources in the name of education, with a lot of cost but no benefit.

    Most of auto safety isn’t about actively doing something, rather it’s about refraining from doing things – driving drunk, following too close, driving too fast for road conditions, and so on. If we could teach people restraint that would be of far greater value than skidpad training.

    Absolutely right. And no, there is no magic school that is going to achieve that.

  • avatar
    jmo

    IMHO the people who pay outrageous fees to live in “downtown” are the foolish ones. How much is gaining that extra 1.5 hours a day (figure 15 min walk to work and back) actually costing you when you pay more for EVERYTHING?

    It all hinges on how much you hate traffic and how much you love your McMansion.

    I prefer to live in a condo in the city where I can roll out of bed at 8:10 and be sh*t, showered and shaved and still make it to the office by 9:00. I’m home by 5:20.

    I can’t imagine any McMansion is so nice that I’d want to get up at 4:30 every day and spend 1.5 hours a day (7.5 hours a week nearly another full working day!) in the car.

    I mean, you must have one nice McMansion…

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    John Horner :

    It should be much harder to get a license and harder to keep one than it is today.

    I agree. I think the great majority of accidents are consistently caused by the same 5% of “bad drivers,” regardless of whether or not their vehicle makes physical contact with other vehicles during the crash.

    I also think that this same 5% of bad drivers is probably also responsible for a major portion of rush-hour traffic jams. The next time you’re at a traffic light when it turns green, just see how many people are not paying attention…distracted. Each little delay (beyond normal human reaction time) adds to the “inchworm effect” of traffic, which to me looks like a good barometer of inefficiency at work.

    I think most people can learn to drive better. We simply choose not to, because the potential penalty for not doing so is really not that great.

    However, if there were a very real threat of having your license revoked for stupidity, inattention, and/or a record of accidents, it would be a great motivator for improving our performance; ie, taking a course, not eating breakfast or reading the newspaper during our commute, not dialing the phone or texting while driving, staying out of the left lane when driving slowly, getting up to freeway speed in a timely manner at onramps, etc.

    I think we would improve safety by several orders of magnitude if we would just find the strength of will and character to remove 2% to 4% of the worst drivers from the roads each year. And make them wait a hefty length of time (say 2 to 4 years) before they could re-apply for a license.

    We can do better. But we need motivation before we’ll make a change.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @jmo:
    Electronic Stablity Control is expected to save as many lives and be as big a safety improvment as seat belts.

    Yeah, that’s the buzz. I have my doubts; we’ll just have to wait and see. Remember how many millions of lives airbags and ABS were going to save (but haven’t)?

  • avatar
    jmo

    Remember how many millions of lives airbags and ABS were going to save (but haven’t)?

    Huh?

    http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

  • avatar
    jmo

    how many millions of lives

    Since only 34k people a year die in auto accidents I doubt the number claimed was in millions.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Pch101:
    Probably not. The subject has been studied extensively for decades, and no one has yet figured out how to use driver’s ed in order to transform peoples’ personalities so that drivers, particularly young drivers, take fewer risks.

    OK. But I think there’s a notable, but small, percentage of young people with poor driving skills AND the maturity to benefit from better instruction.

    To deny this group a possible benefit seems like denying sex ed to everyone because some have sex irresponsibly.

    Accidents aren’t caused by a lack of skills, but by risk taking and inattention. Risk taking is linked to intoxication and youth, and is not deterred by training.

    Better: “Most accidents…”
    Better: “… and is generally not deterred…”

    And again. So we deny those who may benefit because the majority may abuse it?

    Blanket statements like “taking a performance driving course will increase one’s risk of an accident” are false because it assumes that the chronically irresponsible and/or malicious driver would seek out such a course.

    If I had a nephew X with a substance abuse problem, I would never offer to send him to a driver performance or improvement course.

    If I had a niece Y who was well behaved, solid A+ student but lacked basic merging and turning skills, I’d spring for driver training quickly.

    Of course, between those two extremes lies the conundrum.

    ZoomZoom:
    However, if there were a very real threat of having your license revoked for stupidity, inattention, and/or a record of accidents, it would be a great motivator for improving our performance

    Yes. Better and more directed enforcement is where the real payoff would be on this issue.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I think there’s a notable, but small, percentage of young people with poor driving skills AND the maturity to benefit from better instruction.

    The facts don’t support that position.

    Again, I know that people really, really, really want to believe that education is a fix, but the data shows that it isn’t.

    Offering driver’s education as a solution to our driving ills is like dealing with a flat tire by changing the oil. It might feel good and make a big mess, but it accomplishes nothing, so there’s no point.

    Since accidents aren’t caused by a lack of training, more training won’t fix them. We need to first come to terms with this reality, so that we stop recommending changes that will take up our time and money, but achieve squat.

    Blanket statements like “taking a performance driving course will increase one’s risk of an accident” are false because it assumes that the chronically irresponsible and/or malicious driver would seek out such a course.

    Again, the research shows that your statement is wrong. In countries in which accident avoidance training became mandatory, accident rates among those who received the training stayed flat or increased compared to their peers who did not have the training.

    Training instills confidence, and more confidence is the last thing that most people need behind the wheel. They need to be more cautious, not more confident.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    Jeremy Clarkson on spotting bad drivers: “If you buy a rubbish car, what you are saying is that ‘I have no interest in cars’. If you have no interest in cars, then you have no interest in driving. And if you have no interest in something that means you are no good at it. Which means you should have your license taken away.”

    Now of course this is not a hard and fast rule. That said, I have never seen anyone in a “drivers” car hit another car while going 5km/h in a parking lot. And I have never been cut off by an E39 M5, A8L or AMG Merc. Vehicles that have cut me off numerous times? Minivans, trucks, anything toyota or lexus, pontiacs and Acura SUVs…and of course cars that are just plain rust-buckets. I apply the same list to cars I will not park beside.

  • avatar
    ajla

    @frizzlefry:

    If you don’t get cutoff, tailgated, flashed, and yelled at all the time by drivers of Porches, BMWs, WRXs, EVOs, Nissan Zs, Chargers, Mustangs, and Corvettes then consider yourself lucky.

    The Parking lot mishaps I see do seem to skew more to the big SUVs and pickups though.

  • avatar
    variousoldcars

    I’m about finished with Traffic — having purchased the book after reading Stephan Wilkinson’s review and starting it apparently about the same time as David Holzman. I’m finished with traffic too, most days, as I commute 1/4 mile (foot, bike, sometimes driving if I’m hauling something to work or need to make sure the Triumph still starts).

    Which brings me to Pch101, who emphasizes but I think oversimplifies those fatality rate statistics, noting they “have fallen by 80% in the last fifty years, even though the art of driving has not improved at all. Passive safety in the car and in roadway design explains it…” If you’ve driven a fifty-year-old car recently, you’d be forgiven if you think the art of driving, or at least the art of car building, has improved a bit. Newer cars brake quicker, corner better, operate more predictably — and those improvements could play just as big a part as passive safety in lower fatalities. I’m not saying they do, only that passive safety isn’t the only change and doesn’t necessarily explain everything.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    I often wondered where the Spike-In-The-Steering-Wheel thing came from. It’s a wonderful observation.

    Drivers would be much more attentive and risk averse if the implications of not being so where a spike in the head.

    There are SOME that would welcome a spike in the head however, and those people need to be removed from the roads. That would be a way to do it, so win-win!

  • avatar
    Hippo

    amcadoo :
    Are you saying you sometimes ride your bike with a rifle strapped to your back?

    No, most often a Glock, they still see it.
    Other then on the bike where it serves a purpose, it’s concealed (with permit).

  • avatar
    Robstar

    jmo>

    For my current job, affordable living was 45 minutes away by car (where I am currently) @ 35+miles(45-minutes) or 7 miles away (45 minutes by public transport, 30-45 by car). ANYTHING closer was either an apartment (rent only), or in not-so-great neighborhoods, or extremely expensive — to the point where I couldn’t even afford a MUCH smaller place that was more expensive than where I am now.

    After having my car keyed twice and my bike knocked over twice, I refuse to consider any living arrangement without a secured, locked parking space. All 4 incidents happened while the vechicle was “at home”, 2 of them in “private” (non-covered, non-locked) parking.

  • avatar

    I took a defensive driving course when I was a young tacker, and I credit it with making me a fair better driver, and it’s worked so far – zero accidents and only one close call in 20 years of driving 15,000 km or more in all traffic types.

    I think the advanced driving courses that have less focus on defensive driving might help you be a better track driver, but a far worse road driver. I really do not see the need to learn how to drift / dial in controlled oversteer, do the Scandinavian flick, learn how to slalom or auto cross will help with daily driving duties. You simply can’t execute those moves in two way traffic safely at any speed. You might be okay, but the other drivers are clearly not.

    The difference is that I learnt how to drive *safely*, work within the safety margins of my car and the conditions, and recognise my own shortcomings as a driver as well as in others.

    They emphasised that unless you’re struck by a falling satellite, there’s no such thing as an accident, only incidents.

    On the other hand, after getting my MD driver’s license by pootling around the car park at no more than 5 mph, and parking in a 25′ hole in my 12′ long car was hilarious. That needs to change.

    Andrew

  • avatar
    krystalkid

    80% percent of all rear end collisions (the most frequent vehicle accident) are caused by driver inattention, following too closely, external distraction (talking on cell phones, shaving, applying makeup, fiddling with the radio or CD player, kids, texting, etc.) and poor judgement.

    I doubt if we’ll ever stop the madness so I went out and got one of these sparebumper.com

  • avatar
    texlovera

    I am in the camp that says that, sometimes, “safety improvements” are really just dumbing things down and will wind up having no benefit.

    Case in point: I remember reading within the past decade a study of railroad crossings. The fatality (or was it accident?) rate was independent of the “level” of the crossing signal; i.e., it did not matter whether a RR grade crossing had just simple crossbucks, crossbucks with lights, or full-blown lighted gates – the accisent rate was pretty much the same.

    I realize you can’t extrapolate one study to all situations, but it makes sense to me…

  • avatar
    jmo

    After having my car keyed twice and my bike knocked over twice

    And to avoid that you spend essentially an extra working day a week in your car. That’s fine – it’s a free country. But, you could see how it wouldn’t make sense to some.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    it did not matter whether a RR grade crossing had just simple crossbucks, crossbucks with lights, or full-blown lighted gates – the accisent rate was pretty much the same.

    There is a difference between active and passive safety. Active safety tries to encourage improved behaviors. Passive safety targets existing behaviors and assumes that the technology addresses human behavior for what it is.

    Active safety usually produces short-term results at best; people adjust to the technology, negating the benefits. As one example, the third brake lights provided temporary improvement, but provided no long-term benefit. Perhaps they were worthwhile for the short-term gains and there is no point in getting rid of them now. But they didn’t create any permanent changes in behavior and illustrate that the issue of rear-end accidents is the result of drivers choosing to drive too closely, not due to inadequate warning.

    Passive safety asks little or nothing of the user, and that’s why it works. Instead of fixing people, you let the technology accept human foibles for what they are, and design accordingly.

    Newer cars brake quicker, corner better, operate more predictably

    Those are ultimately a function of passive safety. The equipment of today does a better job of working as intended; we no longer have routine brake failure, tire failure, etc.

    There’s a difference between improving the reliability and predictability of the equipment and using technology in an effort to make us behave differently. It’s difficult to change people, and pragmatists will keep that in mind when they devise plans to improve safety.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Plenty of people would say, well, better my car than a sweaty old bus. The last ten years I worked, I rode an average of three times a week with a co-worker who lives a couple of miles farther down the road. We were paying $30 a month to park six blocks from work. I got up at about the same time the worker bus that serves my area passed by the house, and got home fully an hour before the bus passed by.

    Time is worth something.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    jmo>

    I’d rather spend the “extra working day” in my car, and have a place I can afford (cheaper than renting a small apartment in the city) and be secure in my possessions than stay the SAME time on the bus/train/car living 7 miles away and paying more rent than I am paying on my house payment. I’d have to live within 4 miles of work (my estimate)

    It’s not costing me any more time than it was when I lived “close” (7 miles) to work. It doesn’t matter if I “created less traffic” by taking the train bus — it still took me the same amount of time.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    It doesn’t matter if I “created less traffic” by taking the train bus — it still took me the same amount of time.

    This is the problem that urban planners face — many of us are indifferent to the social costs if we benefit personally from contributing to the traffic jam.

    That’s why the solutions ultimately require some assortment of sticks. The only way to deter the behavior is to charge enough for it that the would-be consumers decides not to consume. Asking nicely and providing carrots without sticks to accompany them won’t work.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Pch101:
    Again, the research shows that your statement is wrong. In countries in which accident avoidance training became mandatory, accident rates among those who received the training stayed flat or increased compared to their peers who did not have the training.

    Since my statement was about training a selective minority, your research about “mandatory” training for “all” driver types isn’t relevant.

    My guess is that it’d be tough for any pinhead educator to study groups of mature, stable teens who may benefit.

    Training instills confidence, and more confidence is the last thing that most people need behind the wheel. They need to be more cautious, not more confident.

    “Most” is not all. Some may benefit from training that will increase their risk assessment, discipline, judgment, and confidence. If that weren’t possible, there be no actuaries, firemen, or infantry marines.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    variousoldcars:
    Newer cars brake quicker, corner better, operate more predictably — and those improvements could play just as big a part as passive safety in lower fatalities.

    You should also factor in the notable improvements in trauma care. A nurse told me 10 percent of trauma cases saved today would have perished 25 years ago.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Since my statement was about training a selective minority, your research about “mandatory” training for “all” driver types isn’t relevant.

    Sure it is. The point is that wrecks aren’t caused by skills deficiencies, so training misses the point.

    You’re proscribing an irrelevant “cure” to a problem that generally doesn’t exist. You would be better off if you offered a solution that addresses the causes of the driving problem, but since you don’t like the causes, you would prefer to ignore them.

    I know that you want to think that you and yours are exceptions to the rule, but odds are quite high that they’re just like everyone else. This attitude is very typical among the driving population, and ironically illustrates why training doesn’t work.

    Everyone wants to think of himself as being above-average and that others are simply more ignorant and less talented than themselves, when the reality is that the average person is just average and that they’d benefit most from simply avoiding trouble in the first place. It is difficult to make education work when the attitudes going into it are built on these false premises. Drivers would be safer if they avoided trouble, but formal training can’t fix the human personality.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Pch101:
    The point is that wrecks aren’t caused by skills deficiencies, so training misses the point.

    Add “most” before “wrecks” I’d generally agree.

    You’re proscribing an irrelevant “cure” to a problem that generally doesn’t exist.

    Some poor drivers could become better drivers thru training. Just like poor golfers, marksman, and computer programmers can become better thru training. It’s a valid principle.

    I know that you want to think…

    Well, props to you. I failed Mind Reading (and Differential Equations) in college.

    … that you and yours are exceptions to the rule, but odds are quite high that they’re just like everyone else. This attitude is very typical among the driving population, and ironically illustrates why training doesn’t work.

    There’s no “odds are” about it . There’s a saying, “You can’t choose family.” I’m quite familiar with 2x DWI Convicted Family Member Pickup Driver who, with cancer stick in one hand and cell in the other, tries to navigate with his knees at highway speeds. I understand that training will not help that person.

    Drivers would be safer if they avoided trouble, but formal training can’t fix the human personality.

    Then there would be no Marine Infantrymen.
    But there are Marine Infantrymen.
    Therefore, training can change personality in some.
    Q.E.D.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @jmo:
    Since only 34k people a year die in auto accidents I doubt the number claimed was in millions.

    Claybrook said “Millions”. Repeatedly. On camera.

  • avatar
    variousoldcars

    I don’t doubt Pch101 has studied traffic safety more than I, but his treatment of statistics still feels a bit glib. He writes, “I know that you want to think that you and yours are exceptions to the rule, but odds are quite high that they’re just like everyone else. This attitude is very typical among the driving population, and ironically illustrates why training doesn’t work.” The author of Traffic also notes that most drivers overestimate their skills, and most believe they’re above average — when statistically, most can’t be. But it’s still worth noting that although “odds are” most drivers are average or close to average, that doesn’t mean highly skilled drivers don’t exist. Or for that matter, less talented drivers. There’s certainly some chance that ihatetrees could be one or the other of those. :)

    Something of a tangent, but for anyone interested in an entertaining treatment of randomness and popular misunderstanding of statistics, I’d recommend The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    But it’s still worth noting that although “odds are” most drivers are average or close to average, that doesn’t mean highly skilled drivers don’t exist

    I’m sorry, but again, this misses the point.

    The issue isn’t with the quality of the skills. The issue is that skills don’t prevent accidents.

    The goal of traffic safety is to reduce accidents. Since skills don’t change the accident rate, it is a waste to increase them.

    Once a crash is in progress, fancy footwork doesn’t help. What’s worse is that enough people believe (wrongly) that fancy footwork does help that it worsens the problem, for they drive more aggressively than they should with the mistaken belief that their talent will save them in their time of need.

    It won’t. They crash, anyway. They crash even more because they put themselves in harm’s way more than they should have, all because of their faith in their alleged skills.

    What saves you is choosing to not take risks in the first place. The choice to make risk avoidance a priority is a function of personality (and often times, age), not talent.

    If you want better drivers, then forget the skidpad and deal with personalities, instead. And it’s really naive to think that a driving instructor could ever fix a personality.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @pch101:
    skills don’t prevent accidents

    Firstly, an important point about terminology: in the traffic safety research field we generally do not speak of “accidents”, but of collisions or of crashes. The terms are used interchangeably in casual speech, but “accident” implies a random or freak occurrence of nobody’s fault. In fact, the driver(s) involved almost always have an opportunity to take — or not to take — some action that will avoid or substantially reduce the severity of the collision(s). They may or may not see or take that opportunity, but the opportunity is almost always there. I think you probably already know this, because it’s more or less another way of stating what you said (risk avoidance = crash avoidance).

    Secondly, yes, skills do prevent crashes, just not the skills involved in tossing a car through a complex curve at high speed, threshold braking, and other advanced driving techniques. There’s emerging research that the crash involvement of inexperienced drivers of any age (youth is a highly direct proxy for driving inexperience given new-licence demographics in North America) is relatively high, due in substantial part to new drivers having not developed the skills to seek and parse the relevant and disregard the irrelevant information from the dynamic, complex visual field while driving. Look into the work of Doctor D. Alfred Owens, of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. His initial results suggest novice drivers have not yet learned how to scan their field of view efficiently to detect, perceive, evaluate, and process developing threats. They just plain don’t see them in time because they don’t know how, when, and where to look. Personality, consequential feedback (crashes and/or sanctions) and probably some other factors determine whether the initial unskillful driving practices solidify into habit or are shifted towards better practices.

    Driving safely and effectively involves skill, judgment, situational awareness, conditioned response, and other structured mental and/or physical behaviour. Experience behind the wheel brings a fairly adequate level of most of these safe-driving factors, but only over a great deal of time, as evidenced by the relatively enormous rate at which inexperienced drivers of all ages are involved in crashes. All of these factors can to varying degrees be taught and trained, which offers no magical shield against crash involvement, but compared to untutored experience does greatly accelerate the development of the mental and physical tools for safe driving. Driver training does not end at the conveyance of the relatively simple motor skills needed to operate a vehicle, but the next step should probably not be racetrack time.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    There’s emerging research that the crash involvement of inexperienced drivers of any age (youth is a highly direct proxy for driving inexperience given new-licence demographics in North America) is relatively high

    The research already shows that crash rates are age-dependent, more so than experience-dependent. A novice driver who is older will crash less than a younger driver with the same degree of inexperience.

    Teens are hormonal. They don’t fear death. They don’t tend to think about long-term consequences. As it turns out, driving unsafely also happens to be good fun. That combination explains much of the problem.

    Experience helps. But experience comes from real world driving, not from classroom or skidpad training.

    You want to save lives, today? Then raise the driving age to 18, and force new drivers to adhere to tight restrictions and require them to display large learners placards on their cars so that they can be easily spotted by the cops. Couple that with penalties on the severely intoxicated DUI’s that keep them out of cars completely for long periods of time, and you might get somewhere.

  • avatar
    Ronin317

    I haven’t logged in for quite a while, or had much time to read the site for that matter, but I had to on this article.

    I’m of the opinion that it is FAR too easy to get a driver’s license in most states. And it’s far too easy to keep it – and the fact that there is no retesting later in life, after skills that some never had to begin with have diminished further, sickens me. My own Grandfather, whom I idolized in many respects, had a license for about 2 years too long in my opinion. I see people on a daily basis that are confused by how a friggin’ elevator works, but they’re somehow allowed to operate a car.

    And the state legislatures (I live in Pittsburgh, and PA is so bad with this) that can’t seem to pass any sort of Hands-free bill without trying to attach some frivolous crap the the bill are just adding to all the problems.

  • avatar

    I like the idea of L plates. I also like the idea of O plates for elderly people, so that others might cut them some slack.

  • avatar
    DavidFriedman

    “So, you’re saying that Electronic Stability Control will reduce fatalities by 34% (in light trucks and vans) but that will result in people driving so recklessly that more people end up dying overall?

    That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

    Whether or not it makes any sense, it isn’t what I said, as you should be able to see by reading my post. I said that whether the increased accident rate more or less than compensated for the reduced death rate per accident was an empirical question.

    For the particular set of safety improvements that Peltzman analyzed, his conclusion was that the two effects roughly canceled.

  • avatar

    Best example is this. Most often I ride a motorcycle and often people turn into you. When called upon it they invariably say they didn’t see you.

    They are lying sacks of shit.

    My now deceased Dad had almost taken out a couple of motorcycles when I was younger. Said he didn’t see them. After further thought he said he realized he “was looking for a car coming” and it hadn’t registered. This seemed to help him in the future.

    John

  • avatar
    happy-cynic

    Maybe we could bring back public humiliation (stocks and pillory in areas where there are alot of accidents) again for multiple offenders.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    Driver training and writing people up for tailgating would be money better spent over trying to make the roads “safer”. The moronocity out there is just amazing.

    I drive to work on US 23/I475 every night, and home on surface streets in the morning. It’s a toss up which route has more morons on it. There seems to be a real trend where people seem to have no idea how to merge onto a freeway. They creep up there, or they are doing great up to the point where they would actually merge, and they chicken out and slam on the brakes. Another, really scary thing is slamming the brakes on whenever an OSP car is seen. I have been nearly rear ended a couple of times recently when this happened and I had to slam my brakes on to keep from hitting the clown in front of me who stopped for no reason at all. Last week, a car in the next lane slammed into an F-150 who had to hit his brakes to keep from hitting a woman who slammed her brakes on when she came over the overpass and saw an OSP car ON THE SHOULDER OF THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY writing a guy up. I asked the trooper I saw at Bob Evans later on about it, and he said the slamming on brake thing isn’t new in itself, but the coming to a stop or near stop is, and it’s almost to the point he’s waiting to hear a crash or a near one, every time he writes someone up in the daytime. It doesn’t seem to happen as much at night.

    Yesterday, on the way to work, there was some idiot in a silver Honda driving like he was in “Ronin”, making crazy lane changes, tailgating and flashing his bluish tinted aftermarket lamps (I got the pleasure of getting flashed right after I merged at 75 MPH!) blinding the people he’s trying to pass. I tried to call 911 on him, but my phone wigged out (again), and he was out of sight and probably into Michigan by the time I had shut my phone off and turned it back on again. This same guy drives the same way everytime I see the car. I can’t read the plate, he’s got one of those plastic covers on his rear plate and it’s all fogged up. He needs to be taken off the road for a while.

    On the way home, this 25 year old guy is behind me, about 3 feet behind me, for almost 15 minutes. I wished I was driving an old beater, or my old Dodge Power Wagon, which had a 4″ pipe full of concrete as a rear bumper. If I would have been, I would have slammed on the brakes, just to wreck him. He’s talking on the phone, smoking, and playing with his car stereo (As far as I could tell), all while driving 45 MPH. I finally got to a 4 lane road and was able to get into the other lane. When I pulled up next to him at the next light, I decided to say something, even though I know it’s not a good idea. I honked and he looked at me and I rolled the window down, and told him he needed to back off and not ride up people’s asses like he did, and he was lucky I wasn’t driving something I didn’t care about, or his car would be behind a tow truck. I could tell he had no idea what he did wrong. I just got the hell away from him.

    But a friend’s video of his recent trip to Boston made me happy I live in the Toledo area. His trip to Italy last year made Boston look good though.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Bizarre…I happened to run across this article last night, found it and the comments interesting. Opened my newspaper this morning, there’s a story about a local resident killed while walking along Highway 50 in Florida….and I’m in Oregon. Apparently an SUV just left the highway and crushed him. Wonder if it was on the “safe” or “dangerous” section of the highway.


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